Joe reports via voice-over that Love (not the emotion that drives us all, but the woman he married, murdered, and then framed for his murder before fleeing California for Europe) burned him out. And he tried everything, okay? When you think about it, there was nothing for him to do but chop off two of his tinier toes and bake them into a chicken pot pie, torch his house with the dead body of his wife inside it, leave his baby in the care of a neighbor indefinitely, and abscond to Paris. Paris can solve all your problems! Just ask Emily!
You see, the one thing his heart needs more than it has ever needed anyone is not his disappointing not-a-daughter Henry (bye forever) or Love (RIP) or Beck (also RIP): It’s Marienne. Marienne, the librarian, LOL. The woman Joe believes is in Paris waiting for him … even though Love told Marienne that Joe, not some random mugger, is the one who killed her abusive ex, Ryan.
Our 51-minute premiere (rude) finds Joe not in Paris but in London, where — cue the “Oxford Comma” needle drop — he is “Professor Jonathan Moore.” The professor has a beard, wears a tweed jacket over his vest, and allegedly deviates from the standard canon with such panache that a young female student can’t help but gush over how much she underestimated him. (Okay, but then he literally just assigned Edgar Allan Poe? So not exactly a departure from the racist-dead-white-guy syllabus.) This student’s most important role here is to be the person who gives Joe a book by a guy, Rhys Montrose, who some sizable contingent of Londonites is hoping will run for mayor.
Joe believes he’s found his ilk among the Brits, “the most literary people on earth,” and a suitable home in South Kensington, where he has a working fireplace and walls lined with books in an outrageously lovely flat. (“Williamsburg could never,” says the once-and-forever Dan Humphrey.) Yet socially, he is already saddled with a colleague and neighbor he cannot stand: Malcolm Harding. Malcolm, the beneficiary of multiple generations of family wealth, is a sort of dilettante-slash-“academic” with a girlfriend (or just a regular paramour?) named Kate Galvin (Charlotte Ritchie), a nepo baby (art gallerist and daughter of a model) who, as women in Joe’s universe inevitably must, masturbates in front of her open window.
But alas — Joe wants MORE. He misses having someone WORTHY of his relentless attention, blah, blah, blah. In flashbacks littered throughout the episode, we learn what brought Joe to London, which is NOT where Marienne is. See, Joe tracked down Marienne’s art in Paris, learned Marienne was at an art show in London, and hunted her down there, where she was — shocker! — very unhappy to see him. And then, to prove to her that he wasn’t really a murderer — just a romantic and heroic guy who happened to do a handful of homicides in very specific situations — he allowed her to escape from him and live, not just once but twice. But more on that second escape later.
In present-day London, Joe hears Kate rip into Malcolm for being “a total fucking narcissist.” She storms out of his office, and Joe tails her to her car. Because this show requires that Joe’s stalking of a woman always benefits the woman he is stalking (until he kills her), for only Joe can protect a woman from the even worse men who would do her harm, Kate gets grabbed and violently mugged. Only Joe’s timely intervention saves her from an even worse assault. Kate’s icy reaction to this is that she hated the watch they stole anyway; Joe implores her, awkwardly, not to mention him to the cops. It would make me pretty suspicious if I were Kate, but she’s got a lot going on, so okay.
Back at the flat, Malcolm pops over to thank the man he calls “John-Boy” for coming to Kate’s rescue. (Remember: Women belong to men, so Joe’s act of valor on Kate’s behalf was Malcolm’s to appreciate formally.) Malcolm word-vomits about how his “royal-adjacent” family are the ones who “built this country”; his opinions are about what you’d expect, i.e., it seems like nobody wants to work these days, “but enough about peasants.” Joe finds this repugnant but cannot get out of an invite to Sundry House, which is this world’s version of Soho House, owned by friend-of-Malcolm Adam Pratt. Joe doesn’t even change out of his sweater for this supposedly fun thing he hopes never to do again.
Let’s meet the gang, shall we? We have Lady Phoebe Borehall-Blaxworth, a hot party girl who Joe says “genuinely seems sweet and kind” (she is basically Serena van der Woodsen, copy-pasted-and-paraphrased but British); Blessing Bosede, a Nigerian princess whose techie business ventures strike Joe as pyramid schemes; Simon Soo, an art dealer with a no-new-friends policy; Simon’s sister, Sophie, who ditched Harvard Law for the supposedly more lucrative, less intellectually draining life of a “jet-set influencer” (though if she’s the daughter of a billionaire, why does she bother with spon-con?); Roald Walker Burton, who — ahem — has an “alarming knife collection”; Gemma Graham-Greene, a cancel-culture queen who swills absinthe and spews hate speech; and the aforementioned Adam, who has conspicuously atrocious early-2000s boy-band hair. He’s also an asshole — “Loving the whole off-the-rack vibe,” and “What’s your crypto?” — and is dating Phoebe, which gives us exactly the same dynamic as Beck and her terrible boyfriend from season one. Remember him? Benji! The first guy to die in the secret aquarium! Already repeating plotlines … not ideal. Also worth noting: Malcolm and Sophie hate each other, and Kate is also here and does not seem pleased to see Joe.
It is very funny to me that Joe spends so much of his inner monologue talking about how disgusting he finds rich, entitled people, yet no matter where he goes, from New York to Los Angeles to Madre Linda to London, he always somehow winds up ingratiating himself into exactly that mix. Maybe admit you have a type, Joe! The only person with whom Joe seems to really click is Rhys, the author who would be mayor. Joe read his book and must admit he’s impressed by Rhys’s background: single mom, hardscrabble childhood, followed by a Princess Diaries–style twist in which he found out he was the son of a duke. Rhys immediately clocks Joe as “a fellow man with a shit childhood.” They bond over this status and its lingering effects on their ability (or lack thereof) to ever feel at ease with money.
Joe spends most of the night drinking alone in a corner. The girls ask him leading questions — Gemma: “Did you kill someone? I can always tell” — as they force shots of absinthe down his throat. Joe tries to give Malcolm the abbreviated version of his woes, but Malcolm is quick to turn the whole thing into the kind of misogynistic tear that Joe — a serial stalker, killer, and all-around life-ruiner of women — can’t abide (Malcolm calls Marienne a “whore”). Joe drinks even more and somehow regains consciousness back in his flat, wrapped in Adam’s rainbow-Muppet fur coat, shoes still on.
Just as Joe is trying to figure out how to behave and get Malcolm to leave him alone forever, he finds Malcolm’s dead body, a knife stuck in his chest, flat out on his kitchen table. Also, his pinkie is missing. Big Banshees energy!! It’s hilarious how quickly Joe assumes he must have done this in a drunken haze. He doesn’t even really chastise himself for it; he’s just like, “Ahh, classic me, committing a homicide to protect the honor of a woman who wishes we’d never met!” While the police talk to Kate (presumably about the mugging, though Joe can’t be too sure!), Joe rolls Malcolm’s body up in a rug and stashes it in the very small trunk of the car the classics professor permitted him to use in an emergency (probably not what the prof had in mind).
Joe is a resourceful man upon whom the universe always seems to smile. In no time at all, he finds a sawmill whose operator is slipping out to the pub to catch the last half of a soccer game, which means Joe has the place to himself and plenty of time to dispose of Malcolm’s corpse. We get a lingering full-frontal shot of this dead man’s penis, I guess, just to deliver on a Prince Albert piercing/royal family joke? And then a very gross scene of Joe chopping and table-sawing this body into manageable-size chunks, which he disposes of in various dumping grounds along the Thames.
This brings us to the reason Joe is Jonathan. Just after he let Marienne go, he got busted by his very own stalker: Elliot, a hitman hired by Ray Quinn, Love’s dad. But alas, the hitman is weary of his life, well, taking lives. Just like Joe, he yearns to start anew. So! In exchange for a cut of that money Joe pulled from Love’s secret account — the one he emptied “the day she baked you into a pie,” as Elliot artfully puts it — Elliot will supply Joe with this excellent new identity so he can “fuck off into the sunset.” He will tell Mr. Quinn that Joe is dead, and all Joe needs to do is lay low, pay Elliot (not sure how that part is getting worked out), and kill the only person who knows that Joe is still alive: Marienne. But secretly, Joe REFUSES to do this. Instead, he snags Marienne’s locket straight off her neck and texts Elliot a photo of the necklace as confirmation of the kill. Personally, if I were in the hitman business, I would want much more definitive proof than a piece of jewelry. Still, it appears Elliot, desperate as he was to move on to a nonviolent chapter of his journey, was appeased by this.
Joe returns to Sundry House to drop off Adam’s jacket. He finds Rhys at the bar, already back from his morning TV hit in Berlin. Rhys, totally underestimating the source of Joe’s hangxiety, tells his new friend that he shouldn’t “beat yourself up if you made some sort of cock-up.” Joe thought this could be a fresh start because he has never heard the very famous line about how wherever you go, there you are. Joe quotes Rhys to Rhys only to discover that, what do you know, an especially meaningful passage in Rhys’s memoir is really more of a composite, lightly finessed version of events. This raises no alarm bells for Joe, who only wants to know if Rhys believes in redemption. Rhys says it is possible, but “only if you face it all, no matter what.” This doesn’t seem like something on the table for Joe, but A for effort, Rhys.
On campus, Kate is pointedly hostile to Joe, for she is used to climbers and frauds trying to worm their way into her bougie social circle and does not care if Joe thinks she’s a bitch: “In fact, I prefer it.” I like her! Amid this hostility, though, she assures Joe she did not out him to the cops as her savior, and that his presence is requested at a dinner she’s throwing for Simon. (“Phoebe insisted I invite you.”)
As Joe arrives at the party — underdressed like he’s trying to prove a point, as always — he gets a message on a high-security texting app, “Evanesce,” where texts vanish right after you read them. His anonymous texter greets him in Joe’s standard fashion: “Hello, you.” And then this person takes credit for killing Malcolm (!) and expresses their surprise at Joe’s willingness to dispose of the body (and Joe didn’t even need to Google anything!). So Joe has to find the real killer and then, I guess, kill them? Or something?
I find this show a lot more fun when Joe has something to run from, not just someone to stalk, so I’m intrigued. Though it’s awfully early to have any guesses about which contender from the douchebag den is Most Likely to Murder. Does anybody want to claim an early prediction in the comments?